Teheran is strengthening its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), one of the main pillars of the Islamic republic’s power, in contemplation of a new round of confrontation with Washington. Supreme Leader of Iran Ayatollah Khamenei appointed General Hossein Salami as the new Commander of the IRGC. The appointment coincided with the 40th anniversary since the creation of this elite structure.
IRGC was founded on April 22, 1979, by order of the leader of the Iranian revolution Ayatollah Khomeini. It was formed from the armed units of Islamic Revolution Committees, that had been organized in mosques during the revolution.
The most bellicose and religious-minded young Iranians, who took the most active part in the revolution, became the fighters in those committees. Usually, these were young people from provinces and from poor families. Initially, the IRGC was designed to function as the police, which protected the ideals of the Islamic revolution.
However, the role of the Corps started to evolve during the Iran-Iraq war, which began in September 1980 and lasted eight years. The IRGC servicemen were immediately sent to the frontlines along with regular troops. At first, they were poorly trained as soldiers because before the war they had mainly fulfilled tasks of morality police. But their strong commitment to the ideals of the Revolution definitely contributed to the general uplifting spirit of the Iranian armed forces during that war.
At the beginning of the Iran-Iraq war, Hossein Salami was a twenty-year-old student of the Iran University of Science and Technology. He came from Golpayegan, a small ancient town in the Isfahan province, where the population was engaged only in agriculture and traditional crafts. Salami left the university, joined the IRGC and fought in its ranks throughout the war. Like many of his peers, he mastered the art of war right on the battle field. He served as a senior officer, was the commander of the 25th Karbala division and the 14th Imam Hussein division.
When the war was over, he returned to the university and completed his studies. He received a Master’s degree in defense management and continued his service in the IRGC. Since 1992, Salami took up senior command positions. He was the commander of the IRGC Air Force for four years and for the last ten years he has been Deputy Commander of the IRGC with the rank of Brigadier General. Simultaneously with his appointment as the IRGC Commander Salami was promoted to the rank of Major General.
In fact, the evolvement of the IRGC, its turning into the elite military unit of the Iranian armed forces went along with the career advancement of the General.
The IRGC is a truly elite structure. It comprises 125,000 people. The IRGC has its own naval, air and space forces, as well as intelligence and special services, including the Quids Force, which is in charge of military operations of the IRGC abroad and is led by General Qasem Soleimani, who is the living legend for Iranians.
Although, in the past the IRGC was aa fully independent military structure, a kind of parallel army, now it is considered part of the armed forces of the Islamic Republic. Nevertheless, the share of the IRGC in the general military budget usually exceeds 50%. The corps is, of course, remains the most “ideological” division of the armed forces and reports directly to the Commander-in-chief - the Spiritual leader of Iran.
Today, the IRGC is not only a military structure but also controls dozens of strategically important enterprises, in particular in the military-industrial complex. The Katam al-Anbiya holding is probably the best known among these enterprises. It includes not only the country's largest air defense base, plants for the development and production of advanced weapons and ballistic missiles, but also construction, oil and gas processing enterprises. The holding also owns insurance funds, banks, telecommunications companies and media, research institutes and laboratories.
The influence of the IRGC is felt everywhere in Iran. The Corps is also a real “source of manpower” for the administrative and political elite. Many politicians, ministers, diplomats, deputies of the Majlis came from the ranks of the IRGC. Considering that historically the IRGC was formed with the strong support of the highest Shiite clergy and as a force protecting the values of the Islamic revolution values, it is traditionally seen as the right wing of the Iranian establishment.
The last five years saw a real “rebranding” of the IRGC. After its commandos from the Quids Force, led by brave Qasem Soleimani, successfully fought terrorists in Syria, along with the Russian Aerospace Forces and the army of Bashar Assad and also helped the Iraqi militia to defeat the IS (a terrorist group outlawed in Russia) Iranians see the Corps as a counter-terrorist force and the defender of the Fatherland on the far side. It was not without a reason that Ayatollah Khamenei, who developed the doctrine of "advanced defense", praised the IRGC for "fighting enemies over thousands of kilometers outside of Iran."
In recent days, after Washington branded the IRGC as “a foreign terrorist group,” the Corps contributed to consolidation of the usually fragmented Iranian elite.
The respect the Corps enjoys today is so high that even the representatives of the moderate and liberal reformist wing found it necessary to express their full solidarity to it. The next morning after the White House’s stunt, Speaker of Iran’s Majlis Ali Larijani, leader of the reformist majority Mohammad Reza Aref and a well-known critic of the Corps Mahmoud Sadeghi came to a parliamentary session dressed in green uniform of the IRGC. But their solidarity was not limited to external manifestations. The Iranian lawmakers voted for taking urgent measures to strengthen the Corps.
Iranian social networks were filled with “I am a Guard” hashtags showing great solidarity with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps while a large article was published in the Etemad reformist newspaper.
It is hardly a coincidence that the new commander of the Corps was appointed two weeks after the US branded the IRGC as a “terrorist organization” and immediately after Washington threatened with a total ban on exports of Iranian oil from the early May. Most likely, the Iranian leadership hopes that Salami, who knows the structure works from the inside, will be able to make it even more mobile and resistant to possible threats, for example in the Persian Gulf, where the Corps’ naval forces are guarding the Iranian territorial waters.
It was not a coincidence that right after the appointment of Salami, the commander of the IRGC Navy, Rear Admiral Alireza Tangsiri, in an interview with the Iranian television channel Al-Alam, threatened that Iran will close the Strait of Hormuz if it is not allowed to export oil through it. “We will not hesitate to challenge any threat to protect and defend the waters of Iran, to defend our dignity,” he said adding that Tehran will take retaliatory measures if it comes to protecting Iran’s rights.
Israel is definitely the country that did not rejoice at the new appointment of Salami as the commander of the IRGC. In the heat of mutual hatred and belligerent rhetoric between Tel Aviv and Tehran, General Salami, as a rule, pulls no punches and often calls for the destruction of the Jewish state. For example, he would say that Iran could eliminate Israel in three days, even before the US came to rescue the Zionists. He also advised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “practice swimming in the Mediterranean” because soon, after the imminent collapse of the Zionist regime he “will have no choice but flee into the sea.” Salami is not the one of the kind. Other representatives of the leadership of the Islamic Republic also often express their anti-Israeli sentiments. It is common knowledge that in the Iranian foreign policy doctrine the state of Israel is recognized as an illegal formation.
Now we are observing another aggravation. The Israeli lobby in Washington is pushing the idea of using military force against Iran. The White House, in turn, relies on Saudi Arabia and Israel with its Iran-phobic strategy and formation of a new anti-Iranian alliance - the so-called “Arab NATO”. Therefore, the appointment of General Hosein Salami, representing far-right views, as the commander of the military structure, which has a serious arsenal of military and economic means, capable of responding to threats with tough and resolute actions, seems quite natural.